Housing Associations need to look beyond their Housing Management Systems if they are to fully realise the potential of the data at their fingertips.
Housing Management Systems (HMS) are the ‘precious’ of the social housing sector. Simultaneously one of the most fretted about and under appreciated bits of tech a social landlord uses. They come in various shapes, sizes and cost anything from an arm and a leg, to the whole body. They are essential in providing the day to day information that an organisation needs to survive. From logging customer contact to repairs, arrears, lettings, new tenancies, customer contact information; you name it, you probably store it on your HMS.
But despite their many uses Housing Management Systems are increasingly only part of the picture when it comes to data insight. The static reports that come as part of, or more likely bodged onto, the procured package often provide reams of figures but not always something that is valuable to the business beyond fixed point reporting. Indeed when it comes to data insight HMS’s are often more of a hindrance than a help.
Origins and Evolution
Some might argue it is a bit unfair to expect what is essentially a highly complex excel/access database to be able to provide a malleable, easy to use data insight functionality. After all aren’t they merely posh data repositories? Well yes, to a point, but why store a load of data if you are not going to use it? If you are having to push out data into excel or access databases to then format it into something usable, then something has gone very wrong indeed.
Frankly is doesn’t help that more often than not the software looks like a throwback to Windows 95. Seriously find somebody who is good at developing software that doesn’t look like the digital version of 1960’s brutalist architecture. It might get hipsters and historians all weak at the knees, but it is god awful for the rest of us. And that’s before you get to the actual functionality.
The Great Leap Forward
More and more the sector is moving away from its over-reliance on HMS products, largely as a result of software developments elsewhere. Business Insight tools are a key part of this evolution that is gradually dragging the sector into the
century of the Anchovy 21st Century. With GIS mapping software, data mining and data visualisation tools such as Tableau or Microsoft’s Power BI all having a part to play in weaning the sector of its dependency on technology that isn’t providing the solutions needed.
Caution is required to ensure the lure of shiny new things doesn’t distract from what is a good addition to your current digital arsenal and merely being sucked into the latest fad. But expecting your HMS to magically be able to stretch beyond its core functionality and neatly fit into the next-gen of data analysis, insight and visualisation is a bit of a pipe dream. As is expecting a new bit of software to solve all your problems. Alongside getting out the credit card it is worth asking the following questions:
- How long has your HMS been used at your organisation? Why did you get it?
- When did you last check whether it was fit for purpose?
- When did you last look at what the data needs of the organisation are?
Dust off your digital, IT and data strategies (admit it, you still haven’t put these into one coherent strategy), look at needs (both present and future) of the business, look at the options available and use the sound base your HMS provides to feed into what is out there. Otherwise you will be stuck with Excel spreadsheets and Access databases wasting time whilst your staff manually do what can be done by a bit of software in a tenth of the time.